Sacked staff of the National Identity Management Commission (NIMC) staged a protest in Abuja for the third in three months last week. This time, they stormed the National Assembly Complex in their hundreds. Because they arrived very early on Tuesday and Wednesday, they caught security operatives stationed at the complex napping.
While some barricaded the main entrance and prevented the Assembly staff and lawmakers from using it, human and vehicular traffic mounted, resulting in a gridlock that forced many motorists to abandon their cars along the driveway. Others became unruly, molesting journalists and other passers-by to press home their demand for re-instatement of those who had not reached the retirement age and payment of severance benefits to those who had been disengaged.
Going violent may be reprehensible in itself, but it bespeaks the desperation and hardship that the protesters had gone through in the last one year. NIMC had, in 2012, sacked 4,029 of its staff allegedly for their inability to meet up with a six-year period of grace given to them to acquire university education.
The commission was established by the NIMC Act No. 23 of 2007, with responsibilities for implementing the national identity management system, managing the national identity database, issuing general multi-purpose (smart) cards (GMPCs), and providing identity verification services in Nigeria.
The question that arises is: Were all the sacked 4,029 people engaged for sophisticated duties meant for graduates or was it in their original terms of engagement to acquire the degree certificate within the timeframe now being bandied or were some of them sacked for incompetence or other disciplinary measures?
Already, the NIMC has scheduled a series of interviews to replace them this Thursday. But the protesters alleged that some of the vacancies had been filled "without due process". This is a weighty allegation and the federal government must ensure transparency in the process of engagement and disengagement of personnel from the public service. A government that has vowed to provide employment must not be seen to be indulging agencies that undermine its job-creation efforts.
The country's unemployment rate may be unknown but it is not below 50 per cent. An additional 4,029 jobless people and the other policy of merger and "right-sizing" in many ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) would render the Jonathan government's transformation agenda a mirage.
The number of sacked workers calls for concern and the circumstances of their exit should attract the attention of appropriate authorities. Sending 4,029 persons to the labour market has the potential for accentuating social strife and causing economic dislocation. Their dependants are invariably sent into the wilderness of misery and forced to illicit activities that would spell a bad omen for the polity.
It is embarrassing that it took three pickets and resort to violence for the leadership to respond to the distress call of the embattled workers. Although the House of Representatives had, on February 6, appealed to President Goodluck Jonathan to prevail on the Federal Civil Service Commission to re-absorb the former workers into other MDAs, the plea went unheeded like most other resolutions of the legislature. The president should treat this one as an emergency.